Shock new figures from the Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of people unable to work because of long-term illness has reached a record 2.5 million. Coincidentally, a separate report, also released this month, shows 2.1 million Brits are suffering from the debilitating impact of long Covid. It’s not hard to join the dots, says a leading health testing expert.
The leading testing expert Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Since the pandemic hit the UK in early 2020, the number of people economically inactive due to long-term sickness has risen by 407,000, and now stands at a record 2.5 million.
‘This week’s ONS “Labour Market Overview November 2022” bulletin shows that not enough is being done to address chronic health problems. With a record 29.8 million people registered as payrolled employees and the number of self-employed people still rising, it’s little surprise that too few people are left to fill 1,225,000 job vacancies. UK PLC cannot afford to see record numbers of people economically inactive because of illness.
‘28% of all people classified as “out of the labour market” are long-term sick, compared with 25% at the beginning of the pandemic. How many of these people are suffering from long Covid? It’s frustrating and outdated that the Government’s own labour market figures on long-term illness still don’t include long Covid as a distinct separate condition. Instead, long Covid sufferers are lumped together with a whole range of conditions under the category “Other”. All we can tell for sure is that the number of people suffering from “Other” health problems has increased by almost 100,000 in three years. Clearly, long Covid is a, if not the, smoking gun.
‘Obviously, long Covid isn’t responsible for 2.5 million people being long-term sick, but we believe the figure is higher than the Government concedes. From this vague “Other” data, it estimates that 75,000 people are out of the labour market due to long Covid. It has based this conclusion on simply pulling together figures for those people who are “economically inactive” with those who also reported long Covid is limiting their life “a lot”.
‘However, looking at the Government’s separate report, “The Prevalence of Ongoing Symptoms Following Coronavirus”, also released this November, long Covid could well be responsible for higher numbers of long-term sickness than the Government believes.
‘The Government, employers and society in general seem to be acting as if Covid-19 no longer has any significant impact. In fact, this second report reveals 2.1 million people are currently suffering from long Covid.
‘There seems to be a widespread assumption that because the initial symptoms of the latest Omicron variants can be less severe than they were for earlier strains, Covid has lost most of its danger. Nothing could be further from the truth. A shocking 35% of current long Covid sufferers developed their symptoms after catching Omicron.
‘We must not try to sweep the long-term impact of this virus under the carpet. The report reveals 1.1 million people – half of all current long Covid cases – have been suffering for over a year. And the symptoms are debilitating. Fatigue continues to be the most common symptom reported (70%), followed by difficulty concentrating (45%), shortness of breath (42%) and muscle ache (42%).
‘The prevalence of long Covid is greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years. In other words, most long Covid sufferers are of working age. With 2.5 million people economically inactive because of long-term illness and 2.1 million people reporting ongoing Covid symptoms, it’s not hard to link the two problems. We believe long Covid is potentially responsible for significantly more people being unable to work than the 75,000 currently identified by the Government.
‘Clearly, Covid still has the power to disrupt our lives and places a huge burden on an already struggling NHS and fragile British economy. We are very worried about what lies ahead as we enter the colder winter months.
‘One thing that the Government is to be congratulated on, however, is its growing awareness of the potential impact this winter of a so-called “tripledemic” of Covid and two other potentially lethal viruses. It stated in last Friday’s ONS Covid update that: “In the coming months the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will be running a small pilot to find out whether the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Infection Survey could be used as an early warning system for Influenza (flu) and another respiratory virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the community.”
‘London Medical Laboratory entirely agrees that the combined impact of these three viruses, which can have extremely similar symptoms, needs further study and testing. This winter, we need to monitor the spread of these viruses and the problems created if someone catches more than one of them at the same time.
‘For anyone who is concerned about their own symptoms and whether they might have caught Covid, flu and/or RSV, the introduction of London Medical Laboratory’s own new rapid PCR test, that detects each of these viruses, is timely.
‘This revolutionary new “Covid, Cold or Flu A & B, 4-in-1 PCR Test” can be taken at one of over 85 selected pharmacies, drop-in clinics and health stores nationwide or, for convenience, at home through the post.’